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Sound and Wordplay

Symbol Analysis

This poem is simply made for the "Wordplay" section here on Shmoop. In fact, most of what's going on in this poem is directly sound related. (There are bigger themes and issues, so be sure to check out the "Themes" section if you're curious.) Carroll creates his fantasy world through the use of clever sonic devices and ridiculous vocabulary.

  • Line 1: Let's take the word slithy as our first example. This word is two things: an example of onomatopoeia, and an example of portmanteau. What's that second one? Well, a portmanteau is a word that's made by squashing two words together. In this case, lithe and slimy. Onomatopoeia, as you might have encountered earlier in the discussion about this poem, refers to a word that sounds like what it means (think hiss or buzz). So we have a word that not only sounds slimy, but also is graceful, because of the inclusion of lithe (which means "supple and/or graceful"). Both the sound and the word combining give this new word force and depth of meaning.
  • Line 2-3: Gimble and mimsy echo each other (technically, it's assonance, i.e., repeated vowel sounds) creating sonic cohesion, while the light i sounds give us a feeling of carefree-ness and peace.
  • Line 5: The word Jabberwock is harsh, and signals an impending violence. To jab also means to hit something, which further enhances the sense that this thing is something you don't want to mess with.
  • Line 8: Similarly, the word Bandernsatch has hints of both bandit and snatch in it, the latter being something that the former would do (a bandit snatches your stuff and runs away with it).
  • Line 18: Snicker-snack! is also sonically resonant, as it mimics the sound of a sword hitting something. And about the sword: the word vorpal is a onomatopoetic, if you think about it. Say "vorp!" Doesn't this sound like the swinging of a big, powerful weapon?
  • Line 23: The expressions of joy here are all sound-play. Frabjous is a bit like fabulous, and if you were to holler "Callooh! Callay!" people would probably think you were cheering.

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